The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 01/22/14
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us. Happy
I have to tell you in advance that we are tracking a developing story
tonight this hour, news out of New Jersey tonight that the FBI is
reportedly interviewing new witnesses in the New Jersey abuse of power
investigation concerning the administration of Chris Christie.
Again, this is a late-breaking story. We`re just getting confirmation
tonight. We`re still confirming the last details of the story tonight
before we bring it to you on the air. But I have to let you know that that
story is developing right now, and I expect to be able to give you further
details this hour.
Again, new FBI interviews reported tonight in New Jersey connected to that
abuse of power investigation, details ahead.
Meanwhile, though, all right, this was the “NBC Nightly News” lead story on
June 27, 2011. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, ANCHOR, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS”: Big news out of Chicago today:
former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich convicted this afternoon of 17 out
of 20 corruption charges against him, most of the charges related to his
attempts to benefit from choosing a replacement for President Obama in the
U.S. Senate, in effect, trying to sell a Senate seat.
Jurors said FBI wiretaps of his phone conversations were the key here. And
as he met with reporters after the verdict today, Blagojevich told him he
was trying to learn his lesson about talking too much.
ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR: I, frankly, am stunned.
There`s not much left to say other than, we want to get home to our little
girls and talk to them and explain things to them and then try to sort
WILLIAMS: Jurors added they wanted the verdict to send a message to public
servants about the line between deal-making and corruption. Blagojevich
will become the fourth Illinois governor in recent memory to go to jail.
His predecessor, George Ryan, is still in federal prison, also for
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Before Illinois Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich started
serving 14 years in federal prison for corruption, while Rod Blagojevich
was still at liberty, while he was still governor of Illinois, while he was
fighting those corruption charges against him, Rod Blagojevich did a round
of media interviews in New York to try to tell his side of the story.
This was after the charges against him were unveiled. It was after the
U.S. attorney had gone public with what was on the Blagojevich wiretaps
where the governor talked about selling Barack Obama`s Senate seat and what
he could get for it. It was after all that, but before he was impeached
and before he went on trial.
And in that interregnum of Rod Blagojevich`s corruption, he came to New
York because he wanted to get his side of the story out there. And one of
the people who got to interview Rod Blagojevich at that very weird time was
And the thing I will always remember about that interview is the striking
sense, even face to face with him, even looking him in the eye, even
walking into and out of the interview when we were not on camera, there was
a striking sense that he didn`t really get why anybody would think what he
did was wrong.
He didn`t really dispute that he tried to sell the also U.S. Senate seat.
He just didn`t think it was so wrong.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Do you agree that it would be wrong, it would be criminal for you
to try to exchange Barack Obama`s U.S. senate seat, that appointment, for
something that would be of value to you? You agree that that would be
BLAGOJEVICH: Oh, absolutely.
MADDOW: Yes. Did…
BLAGOJEVICH: A personal – you know, one for the other personal gain?
MADDOW: And you didn`t do that?
BLAGOJEVICH: Absolutely not.
MADDOW: Well, on the wiretaps, you`re quoted saying, “It`s a `bleeping`
valuable thing. You don`t just give it away for nothing. If they`re not
going to offer anything of value, I might just take it. I`ve got this
thing and it`s `bleeping` golden. I`m not just giving it up for `bleeping`
In what possible context could you say – say things like that if you
weren`t trying to exchange something of value for the Senate seat? What
other context would make that…
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, let me answer that two ways.
I`m not acknowledging that`s what actually were on the tapes, because we
haven`t had a chance to hear it. But playing the devil`s advocate in
assuming it was, why can`t the construction of that be, I want them to help
me pass a public works program, a jobs program.
MADDOW: Even if you wanted food for the hungry, I mean, even if you wanted
justice itself in exchange for the senate seat, you`re not supposed to
exchange anything for the Senate seat.
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, I don`t disagree that one for the other isn`t.
But there are political negotiations and leveraging, which is all very much
part of the process.
MADDOW: When you – again, this is from the wiretapped calls. I realize
you`re not going to testify to their veracity. But they are out there, and
the transcripts are there, and some of them were played today in the
Speaking about Barack Obama`s advisers, “They`re not willing to give me
anything but appreciation in exchange for the senate seat. `Bleep` them.”
What would you want other than appreciation? What could be kosher to
exchange for a Senate seat?
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, how about helping us pass health care and a jobs bill
and helping the people of Illinois? Don`t just leave Illinois now.
MADDOW: I will appoint person X instead of person Y unless you do this
favor for me?
BLAGOJEVICH: No, no, the one for the other is not – that`s not what I`m
saying. I`m simply saying, I`m in a political business.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I`m in a political business.
Well, now he`s in a federal prison, because making politics into that kind
of business, turns out, is criminal bribery and extortion and conspiracy to
commit bribery and extortion. And that`s why Rod Blagojevich is in prison.
And it`s those same charges that have now been leveled against another
governor with really above-average hair, Governor Bob McDonnell of
Virginia. Governor McDonnell is vehemently asserting his total innocence
of the 14 felony charges that have been levied against him by federal
prosecutors as of yesterday.
And his innocence, of course, will be adjudicated in federal court now.
But, weirdly, Governor McDonnell is also asserting that nobody has ever
been convicted of charges like this ever before.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB MCDONNELL (R), FORMER VIRGINIA GOVERNOR: I come before you this
evening as someone who has been falsely and wrongfully accused.
The federal government`s case rests entirely on a misguided legal theory.
No other elected official has been successfully prosecuted for such
conduct, yet federal officials in Washington, in their zeal to find a basis
for charging Maureen and me, have decided to stretch the law to its
breaking point in this case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: No other elected official has been successfully prosecuted for
Mr. McDonnell, meet Mr. Blagojevich, also now known as inmate number 40892-
424. Mr. Blagojevich, meet Mr. McDonnell.
The claim that the bribery prosecution of Bob McDonnell is novel, that it
has never been done before, that claim itself is pretty novel, right? But
there are going to be two interesting things to watch here going forward.
First, most of the charges in the Bob McDonnell case are shared between the
governor and his wife, in that the government alleges that the two of them
worked together to exchange official acts by the governor for material
things and money that they took for themselves.
But the governor alone is charged with lying to a bank about the money that
he took from the donor in question, a man named Jonnie Williams. And it`s
the governor`s wife alone who is charged with obstructing an official
proceeding for concocting, allegedly, a fake story about all the designer
clones she was bought by that donor and concocting that story and trying to
pass it off as the truth after she was interviewed by law enforcement.
That`s the allegation in the indictment. Most of the charges, the bribery,
extortion, fraud, conspiracy charges are for both the governor and his
wife. They do have two separate legal teams defending them, though.
Does the prosecution and does the defense proceed against them as a couple,
right, or does at least the defense start to diverge between the two of
them, because the two of them do face different lists of charges?
Remember, back when Bob McDonnell apologized for the scandal for the first
time, he tried to essentially put some of the blame on his family members,
to a certain extent, apologizing – he apologized for their behavior before
he apologized for his own behavior, and he apologized for their behavior
separately from his own behavior.
And then he put it out there that some of this stuff was done by his wife
without his knowledge. So, does the defense of these two parties in this
corruption case, does the defense of the two of them diverge for their two
cases? That`s one question that remains to be seen.
The other thing to watch here is what happens politically now both in
Virginia and around the country. Unlike the scandal surrounding Chris
Christie`s administration in New Jersey right now, which is being
investigated aggressively by the state legislature, unlike New Jersey, this
corruption scandal in Virginia has never had other politicians involved at
all, at least in the legislature.
The legislature never investigated Governor McDonnell. They never formed
an inquiry into the allegations. Bob McDonnell is a Republican, and it is
Republicans who control the Virginia legislature, and whether or not that`s
why they stayed out of this whole thing or whether it was just the sequence
of events, after the FBI started their federal investigation last spring.
One big contrast between these concurrent scandals in New Jersey and
Virginia is that, in Virginia, there really has been almost no occasion for
the other parts of state government to weigh in on this scandal at all, to
be part of sorting it out, or even to decide whether they would side with
the governor or not, as he`s been denying this thing from the beginning.
Virginia legislators haven`t had to say whether they are siding with Bob
McDonnell. They have just been declining comment by and large since the
first day the story broke.
Well, that sort of has to change now, because today is day one of the full-
scale pushback from Bob McDonnell against these federal charges that have
been levied against him and his wife. And his pushback is partisan. His
pushback is that these charges are federal government overreach.
The reason he`s being charged is that the Obama Justice Department is out
to get him – it`s implied in his statement – out to get him because he`s
a Republican governor.
Look, from his motion filed with the court in his defense: “The federal
government`s decision to use these deceitful tactics in order to prosecute
a popular and serving Republican governor immediately upon leaving office
is disgraceful. It violates basic principles of justice and it`s
contemptuous of the citizens of Virginia who elected him.”
And if that is going to be Bob McDonnell`s defense to these corruption
charges, then that really does put Virginia Republicans and to a certain
extent national Republicans in the position of deciding whether they are
with him, deciding if this really is, as he says, just Bob McDonnell being
persecuted for partisan reasons by a Democratic administration, or whether
this is Bob McDonnell caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
Bob McDonnell`s defense is partisan. Will other Republicans in Virginia
and around the country line up with him? Will they continue to stay out of
it? Or will they walk to see the prosecution proceed? Watch this space.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLAGOJEVICH: I`m here to tell you right off the bat that I am not guilty
of any criminal wrongdoing, that I intend to stay on the job, and I will
fight this thing every step of the way. I will fight, I will fight, I will
fight until I take my last breath. I have done nothing wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Got lots to get to tonight, including again, as I mentioned, this
developing story that we, I think, are going to be able to bring you in
just a moment about apparently new FBI interviews tonight in New Jersey in
the abuse of power investigation in that state.
Stay with us. We will be right back.
MADDOW: On Election Day, if you want to, you can stage a protest anywhere
in America on a subject of your choosing. It`s a free country. And if you
want to stage your protest on Election Day, you might want to stage that
protest where you know you will have basically a captive audience, and a
captive audience with politics on their minds.
You might want to stage your protest at a place where people are voting, at
a polling site. You have the right to do that. You have the free speech
right to do that.
But, because we also have laws that protect prospective voters as they go
to fulfill their constitutional right to vote, you can protest outside a
polling place on Election Day, but you can only get so close when you do
it. You have to abide by a protective buffer zone, so you don`t interfere
with or intimidate or unduly influence people as they go about casting
The size of that buffer zone varies from state to state. In, say, the
state of Massachusetts, you have to stay 150 feet away from the entrance of
a polling place when voting is under way.
But there are also buffer zone laws at military funerals. If you`re
someone who believes that the best use of your time is to protest at the
funerals of American service members – and there are people who believe
that, God bless their souls – well, the U.S. Constitution and the right to
free speech means that you have a right to protest at funerals, but, again,
Federal law says that you can get no closer than 300 feet to the entrance
of that military funeral that you are protesting. That`s how the law and
the courts balance that particular right to free speech with the rights of
the loved ones of that fallen service member not to be harassed and
terrorized as they attend the funeral of that person they loved.
Same general idea, actually, for protesters at the Supreme Court of the
United States. If you`re protesting at the Supreme Court in Washington,
D.C., whether you`re happy with the Supreme Court or mad at them or
anything in between, if you`re protesting at the court, you have to stay a
certain distance away from the entrance to the court.
There are no protests of any kind, no public demonstrations of any kind
allowed anywhere on the 250-foot plaza of the Supreme Court. So, if you
want to protest at the court, you`re welcome to, but there`s a very
specific geographic limit on that right, which gives the court effectively
a 250-foot geographical buffer zone from any protests.
On December 30, 1994, a man with a gun, 22-year-old man, walked into the
Planned Parenthood clinic in Brookline, Massachusetts. He walked up to the
receptionist and he said, “Is this Planned Parenthood?” And when the
receptionist told him it was, he shot her and he killed her. And he was
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Eyewitnesses say he arrived dressed in black, pulled
out a .22-caliber rifle and, as they tried to flee, opened fire. The
gunman shot four people before escaping here. One woman, a clinic worker,
died at the scene.
But the terror wasn`t over – just 10 minutes later, a similar attack at a
clinic blocks away by a gunman also dressed in black.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He dropped the duffel bag, pulls out a rifle, and I was
stunned when I saw the rifle, before he hit and shoots the girl I`m talking
to. She falls.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Three people were injured at the second clinic,
including one woman who died at the hospital. A massive manhunt involving
federal, state and local police agencies is under way, but authorities
stopped short of saying the same gunman carried out both attacks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are presently in the beginning phase of an intensive
investigation to find the individual or individuals.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The two clinics are just a mile-and-a-half apart, and
anti-abortion activists have protested frequently at both. Clinic
officials confirm that both clinics received death threats over the last
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That gunman killed two women that day in Brookline. It was the
same guy. The people he killed were Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols.
He killed them both on the same day in 1994. They were both receptionists
at two different clinics on the same street in Brookline.
The gunman then got away. He fled to Virginia, it turns out, where he kept
up the rampage. He shot into the doors of another abortion clinic in
Norfolk, Virginia. But then he was captured by police.
The clinics where the shootings happened, where two people were killed and
five people were shot and wounded, those two clinics were routine targets
for anti-abortion protesters at the time. According to contemporaneous
reports, an hour after that gunman killed Shannon Lowney at the Brookline
Planned Parenthood, somebody called that same clinic and told a counselor
there who answered the phone – quote – “You got what you deserved.”
Shannon Lowney`s family later announced they were creating a fund to help
provide protection at clinics, both for the patients who attended the
clinics and for the employees who work there. Eventually, the state of
Massachusetts did pass a specific law aimed at protecting those people.
In 2000, Massachusetts Republican Governor Paul Cellucci signed a new law
that said, even though you can protest outside a clinic that provides
abortion services, you cannot get closer than 18 feet to the entrance.
That principle is why you see those yellow lines painted on the ground
around some of the entrances to some clinics in Massachusetts.
Those lines are there so people know they can state their case, they can
say whatever they want. They just can`t physically approach the people
entering a clinic or the clinic`s patients.
Then, in 2007, that buffer zone law in Massachusetts, which was enacted
after those two young women were shot and killed, that buffer zone law was
strengthened to 35 feet. And it is that 2007 law from Massachusetts, the
35-foot buffer zone, that law is now awaiting word on its fate from the
United States Supreme Court.
In a case very similar to this in 2000, the court ruled in favor of
Colorado`s version of this law. But, this year, everybody sort of expects
that the court is going to rule against the Massachusetts buffer zone, or
at least that they`re going to weaken it.
The court has heard the oral arguments in the Massachusetts case already.
They`re expected to rule on it in June. And, of course, if they do rule
against the 35-foot buffer zone, which is designed to protect patients
seeking access to those clinics and the staff who work at those clinics,
that ruling could have reverberations, not just for Massachusetts, but for
any state with a similar buffer zone set up for clinics that provide
abortion, and not just abortion clinics, military funerals, other places
where buffer zones limit free speech geographically in the name of
protecting other rights, polling places, the Supreme Court itself.
Today, of course, is the anniversary of the Supreme Court`s landmark ruling
protecting a woman`s right to get an abortion in this country; 41 years ago
today was Roe vs. Wade. President Obama today put out a statement praising
that decision, calling the right to get an abortion in this country part of
– quote – “reproductive freedom.”
Also in Washington today, because it is the anniversary of Roe, anti-
abortion protesters took to the National Mall for their big annual anti-
abortion rally. It`s something they do every year. They call it the March
for Life. Republican elected officials always, always speak at the March
But, this year, the Republican Party sort of tripled down on their support
for this march. They delayed the start of the Republican Party`s annual
winter meeting so members of the RNC could go to the march and not miss any
of the meeting. The chairman of the Republican National Committee himself
attended the march, and the RNC chartered a bus.
They provided bus service to and from the march for RNC members. At their
winter meeting, once it got under way, once everybody had had their chance
to go marching against abortion rights, the RNC introduced a big new anti-
abortion resolution for its members, stating that Republican candidates for
office must stop shying away from being anti-abortion. They should loudly
declare how anti-abortion they are. And if a Republican candidate for
office does not talk enough about just how against abortion rights they
are, this resolution says the RNC should not support that strategy as that
candidate runs for office.
Republican National Committee set to vote on that new “be louder about
being anti-abortion” resolution by Friday of this week.
Meanwhile, in Congress, they`re considering these measures – not just a
matter of marching in the streets and dealing with the Supreme Court. The
legislature matters here, too. And, in Congress, Republicans control the
House of Representatives.
The Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, specifically the
Republican majority on the Judiciary Committee of the House of
Representatives, which looks like this, all these lovely ladies, they
decided that the first bill they would mark up in 2014, the way they would
start this new session of Congress, the very first thing they would work on
would be the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which concerns abortion
coverage and whether or not Washington, D.C., is allowed to spend even its
own money, even non-federal money, providing access to abortion for low-
income women in that city.
That was the very first thing that the Republican-controlled House
Judiciary Committee decided to work on this year. And all the male
Republicans on that committee, which is all the Republicans on that
committee, unanimously voted for it, but not before telling the one
representative of Washington, D.C., in Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton,
that she would not be allowed to speak on the issue.
Republicans in the House are also expecting this year to make their most
concerted push ever for a federal nationwide ban that would criminalize
abortion all across the country at 20 weeks or later. The House voted to
pass a 20-week ban last year. This year, they are on a renewed push for
it. They think they can try to get it through the Senate, too.
They are going to mount a concerted effort to target centrist Democrats,
hoping that that – those centrist Democratic votes and all the Republican
votes in the Senate would help them get that abortion ban through the
Democratic-controlled Senate, whereupon it would be promptly vetoed by
The Supreme Court just last week struck down Arizona`s version of a 20-week
ban on abortion, or, rather, they allowed to stand the lower court ruling
that had struck down the Arizona law.
But House Republicans still say they want that for the whole country. They
think this is the year they`re going to be able to get it passed. And, as
we await probably yet another ruling on 20-week bans, federally clarifying
that issue after what they did with Arizona, and as we await the judicial
fate of the Massachusetts buffer zone law that passed after that fatal
rampage in Brookline and created a safety buffer zone around those clinics,
as we await those things judicially, the Republican Party, not just in the
states, but in Washington, is declaring that, more than anything else, more
than any other policy issue in the country, the one thing that unifies the
Republican Party in the United States is how opposed they are to abortion
War and peace, spending vs. not spending, hands-off government vs. hands-on
government, guns, gays, the Voting Rights Acts, there are real differences
of opinion among elected Republicans on all of those issues, but on
abortion, unity. There is one Republican position on which you can say
there is unity, and they are putting it at the forefront what it means to
be a Republican.
They think it`s not just the right thing to do. They think it`s going to
work for them strategically. Why do they think that? And what does it
mean for our politics?
Joining us now is John Stanton. He`s Washington bureau chief for BuzzFeed.
Mr. Stanton, thank you for being here tonight.
JOHN STANTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, BUZZFEED: It`s good to be here.
MADDOW: On this issue, there`s a lot of talk by people who don`t know,
such as myself, about what was going on inside the Republican mind about
losing women by 12 points, about all the Senate seats that they thought
were going to be winnable that they lost, about the resonance of the idea
of a Republican war on women.
And people who don`t know were thinking, oh, Republican mind-set here is
that they`re going to have to start soft-pedaling this issue.
MADDOW: They have gone in completely the opposite direction. Do you have
any insight from your reporting into why?
STANTON: Yes, I think they look at this as a thing that unites their base.
It does bring their people out to vote. They see this as a very good
political issue. They don`t have any notion that this is going to actually
pass. They understand that if, by some miracle, they found the 20-some-odd
votes they`re going to need from Democrats in the Senate to get it through
the Senate, it would be vetoed. You could not override that veto.
But they see it as a way to gin up their base. And in an off-year election
like this, that is key. They also, I think, see this as a way to try to
win back that – at least get a true stalemate maybe with Democrats on this
issue of the war with women.
They`re trying to put some of these moderate Democrats into a bit of a
tough bind by saying, well, you`re for late-term abortions or you don`t
want to tell the parents of children that are having an abortion that
they`re having it.
But the idea that there is this moral thing to this, at least for, I think,
members of, for instance, the RNC committee and for some members of the
Republican Party, but a lot of them, this is also very much a political
MADDOW: And that is the part – seeing it as a moral issue and having a
moral debate about what`s right in terms of policy is something I
understand completely and I think everybody believes is a legitimate
I think the thing that is – we`re just figuring out now is that the
electoral calculus, Democrats look at this and think, I can`t believe
Republicans are shooting themselves in the foot like this, taking this into
a general election and saying, no, we want to be more loudly known as anti-
abortion. We want that to be more prominent in terms of how you think of
But that really is the way that they think it shakes out.
STANTON: And it is – goes against sort of what everyone would say is the
obvious evidence. The Virginia election is a great example.
But it`s a very conservative state. It`s a state where abortion is very
much frowned upon, and yet they pushed this issue. It became a thing, and
it helped Democrats in the end. And the gender gap between Cuccinelli and
Terry McAuliffe was enormous. That`s why Terry McAuliffe, of all people,
is the governor of Virginia now, and…
MADDOW: In Washington, are there any issues where this Republican
orthodoxy on the issue actually gets complicated, where it means they don`t
know what to do?
STANTON: The biggest one is Israel.
My colleague Kate Nocera did this great story about how we give them
billions of dollars every year, and Israel now has the most progressive or
liberal law on abortion. They are now providing taxpayer-funded abortions
to people in Israel.
And you cannot find a Republican that will criticize that. And they say,
well, that`s separate money, but they say, in the case of, for instance,
District of Columbia or Planned Parenthood, that money is fungible. Those
arguments don`t come into play on the domestic level. It`s only on Israel.
And that`s really the only place that we have seen the Republican Party
suddenly back away from its criticism of abortion.
MADDOW: So, this is going to be the hard-line fight, the Republicans
telling each other, you support funding for Israel, you`re a murderer?
MADDOW: Specifically on the issue of abortion?
STANTON: Right. Exactly.
MADDOW: Right. This is – that`s – I want to see that fight.
MADDOW: I just want to see that fight, just because I would like to bet on
MADDOW: John Stanton, Washington bureau chief for BuzzFeed, thank you very
much for being here, John. Good to see you.
All right, a major development in the federal investigation into the abuse
of power allegations against the Christie administration in New Jersey. We
have got that breaking news story for you next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: We have breaking news from New Jersey tonight. NBC News is
reporting tonight that FBI agents have begun questioning witnesses in New
Jersey as they investigate the explosive – explosive claims by Hoboken
Mayor Dawn Zimmer concerning the administration of New Jersey Governor
According to NBC`s Michael Isikoff tonight, three sources are confirming
that federal agents have been in Hoboken questioning the mayor`s chief of
staff and her communications director. Those two are among a reported five
witnesses who may be able to confirm or not confirm that Mayor Zimmer
previously told them her account of a conversation that she had with the
lieutenant governor of New Jersey, Kim Guadagno.
That of course is the conversation in which Mayor Zimmer says that the
lieutenant governor told her that Superstorm Sandy relief funds might flow
more freely to Hoboken if the mayor OK`d a private real estate development
deal in that town.
Federal agents have also reportedly instructed key witnesses to preserve
all documents and e-mails related to those allegations.
Now of course the lieutenant governor categorically denied any wrongdoing
yesterday in a public statement. Governor Christie`s office has also
denied the allegations and called them, quote, “partisan politics.”
Whatever the charges amount to ultimately or not, the feds are obviously
taking the charges very seriously. They are in Hoboken, according to NBC
News, tonight. And they are asking questions, again five witnesses
interviewed by the FBI. Stay tuned, we`ll keep you posted.
MADDOW: It is five years ago this week that former president George W.
Bush left office. They welcomed the new guy, shared some hugs and
handshakes, and then former President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush
climbed to the steps into the helicopter and they flew away.
The Bush presidency was over January 20th, 2009. Five years ago this week.
And whatever that moment meant to you at the time, it has a whole new
meaning now, because under federal law, once a president has been out of
office for five years, the public gets to see a whole lot more about what
that president was up to while he was in office.
This Monday, five years exactly after George W. Bush left office, the
George W. Bush Presidential Library started accepting Freedom of
Information Act requests. FOIA requests. That`s what reporters call it,
right? We say we are FOIA-ing documents.
But FOIA is not just for reporters. Any individual, regardless of
citizenship, as well as organizations, companies, and state and local
government can now submit FOIA requests for George W. Bush records at the
George W. Bush Presidential Library.
This is a particularly great variety of nerd Christmas. I mean, you, your
grandmother, adoring wannabe George Bush biographers, reporters, students,
the curious, the suspicious, folks needing to settle a longstanding,
friendly bet about the Scooter Libby prosecution, libertarians who now
think they remember that they never liked George W. Bush in the first
place, all of us, anyone, we can all now file FOIA requests demanding to
know just about anything about the George W. Bush presidency. Anything
that isn`t classified.
Of course presumably most of the really interesting stuff is classified.
Still it`s very exciting. If you want help starting your own FOIA request,
the “Dallas Morning News” has hopefully published the contact information
and a list of steps you have to go through in order to file your very own
FOIA if you want to. We will post a link to it on our Web site in case
And so it has been five years this week since George W. Bush was in office
which among other things means you can now FOIA requests from his library.
But that anniversary involving George W. Bush also means it has been one
year since this happened, since President Obama took the oath of office to
begin his second term as president. January 21st, 2013. The real and
final end to an election where Americans in a surprising number of places
waited hour after hour after hour just for their chance to vote.
A lot of people called this the stay-in-line election. Remember Desiline
Victor, 102 years old, Desiline Victor staying in line more than three
hours to cast her ballot in south Florida?
We may never know the full effect of those long lines in the 2012 election.
The best analysis we have by the people who study this stuff is that
Latinos and African-Americans and young people in particular, waited longer
than other people.
And not everybody could afford to heroically, stoically wait it out for
hours. After the election, one study found that 200,000 people in Florida
alone likely gave up in frustration over those long lines at the Florida
polls. 200,000 people tried but they gave up and never voted.
The night he won that second term, President Obama thanked everybody who
voted. He mentioned specifically the voters who, quote, “waited in line”
for a very long time. And the newly reelected president said, off script,
by the way, we have to fix that. He brought up the issue again in his
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is now our generation`s
task to carry on what those pioneers began. Our journey is not complete
until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Then a few weeks later in his State of the Union address last year
President Obama announced a way toward trying to fix it. He announced a
yearlong effort, a national commission headed up by the top lawyer from his
own re-election campaign – a former White House counsel – and the top
lawyer from Mitt Romney`s election campaign.
A commission headed by the two of them, the two of them working together to
try to come up with bipartisan solutions, consensus, doable solutions that
both Democrats and Republicans might like to stop Americans from having to
wait hours in line in order to vote.
Well, today they reported back.
Joining us now for the interview are Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg, co-chairs
to the Presidential Commission on Election Administration.
Mr. Bauer and Mr. Ginsberg worked for the Obama and Romney campaigns
respectively in the last election.
Gentlemen, thank you very much for being with us.
BENJAMIN GINSBERG, PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION ADMINISTRATION CO-CHAIR: Thank
ROBERT BAUER, PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION ADMINISTRATION CO-CHAIR: Thank you.
MADDOW: Mr. Ginsberg, let me start with you, the premise of the report and
it`s very specific, is that no citizen should have to wait more than 30
minutes to vote. Do you think that is feasible and what do we have to
change about our system in order to get that?
GINSBERG: Well, in the commission studies, which was – which was involved
in detail, we talked to many of the administrators who had long lines in
their districts as well as academicians and voters. And what we discovered
is that the problems that caused the long lines were all, number one,
identifiable and number two solvable. And what the report does is go
through quite a large number of recommendations and best practices with
which to fulfill that.
But we primarily found that there`s not adequate planning by the local
administrators to do that and in one of the things the commission
discovered in its testimony was there are a number of very good online
tools that are available to administrators to help them plan, understand
the flow of elections, kind of get things right. And those will be
They`re available now on the commission Web site, and will be housed
permanently on Cal Tech MIT Web site.
MADDOW: Mr. Bauer, let me ask you, in terms of sort of technocratic fixes
like that, and in some cases technological fixes, ways that local
administrators who want to do a good job can do a – can do the good job
that they want to do, that seems relatively noncontroversial at least in
ideological terms. You`re a guy who`s been very close to the real politic
of getting things done, what do you think the hopes are for actually
improving these things that you guys say could be improved. Who has to buy
BAUER: The pieces of the commission was that if we went around the country
and we spoke to the people who ran elections in the states and the
localities and we listened to the experts and we talked to the
stakeholders, to the groups that are representing the interest of voters
across the spectrum, without regard to ideology or party affiliation that
we could build from the ground up, from what we heard and on the best
social science and data available, we could build from the ground up a set
of packages that would really sell.
And we`re confident from what we`re hearing from the states, from the
localities just in the last few hours and quite frankly over the period of
time that we were discussing some of these recommendations, we`re confident
that we can sell it, that there`s a significant motivation, a significant
appetite within the community of election administrators to do something to
solve this problem because – and this is something we discovered, they
know the voters expect it, and our guideline all along was the interest and
the evolving expectation of our voters.
MADDOW: Do you expect that most of these important fixes will be
BAUER: I`ll invite my co-chair here, Mr. Ginsberg, to comment. Some will
– may well require resources, there may be some equipment, facilities that
will require funds. We, however are going to help election administrators
make the case for those funds, often they tell us that their budget
priorities are shuffled a bit to the bottom of the deck. There are other
pressing demands that governments have to meet.
We`re trying to help them build a case for that which does require
resources, but there are other resources that we made available to them.
Other tools that they can use that really would not require the expenditure
of the significant sum of money and the planning advice and support that
we`d like to give including the online tools, as Ben mentioned, are among
those less expensive options.
MADDOW: Mr. Ginsberg, let me ask you about the – some of the politics
here. In political science 101, at least political strategy 101, they
teach you essentially that Republicans historically have benefited when
turnout is lower, and Democrats have benefited when turnout is higher.
Whether or not you think that`s true, that is the widespread belief in
political circles, and given that, how do you take this goal of making it
easier for people to vote out of something that has partisan implications
that Republicans might not like?
GINSBERG: I must have missed that part of the course that you`re referring
I believe that what we present in this report are a series of bipartisan
and unanimous recommendations aimed at the voter and making voting easier
for all legally qualified voters. And as Bob said, our mission in this
report was to improve the voter experience. I sort of reject the –
completely reject the notion that somehow Republicans don`t want people to
MADDOW: Mr. Ginsberg, I am really happy to hear you say that and I promise
to clip that sound bite and play it over and over again a lot in our really
good news segment for a year.
GINSBERG: I believe.
MADDOW: All right. Ben Ginsberg, Bob Bauer, co-chairs of the Presidential
Commission on Election Administration. Thank you very much for your time
tonight and talking to us. But I also have to say you guys are busy guys
who bill a lot for your time and your devotion to do this for the country
and to spend a year working on this in a totally nonpartisan way is really
an honorable thing for you both to have done. So thank you for doing it.
GINSBERG: Thank you.
BAUER: Thank you very much.
MADDOW: Thank you.
We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GARY SOUTHERN, FREEDOM INDUSTRIES PRESIDENT: Look, guys, it has been an
extremely long day. I`m having a hard trouble talking at the moment. I
would appreciate it if we could wrap this thing up. I will –
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have a lot – we actually have a lot of questions.
It`s been a long day for a lot of people who don`t have water. Are there
no systems in place to alert you of a leak at your facility other than a
SOUTHERN: At this moment in time, I think that`s all we have time for. So
thanks for coming, thanks for your time.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have more questions. Hey, hey, hey, we`re not
SOUTHERN: We`re not done?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We`re not done. No. Anyone else have any other
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That`s the charmer who runs Freedom Industries which two weeks ago
spilled chemicals into the Elk River in West Virginia which rendered
undrinkable and toxic the water supply for one in six people who live in
Since the company president`s “I`ve had a long day” press conference, that
company has been sued many times. They`ve declared bankruptcy. The people
of West Virginia have, of course, gone days without access to safe water.
Even after some of their water was declared safe, it was then still found
to be unsafe. Hundreds of people have gone to West Virginia hospitals with
symptoms consistent with exposure to the chemical that was spilled.
On Monday of this week, West Virginia`s governor basically declared that
people were on their own. That everyone has to make their own personal
decision as to whether or not you think your water is safe to drink.
It`s been a bad two weeks in West Virginia since Freedom Industries` tank
number 396 spilled its contents into that Elk River and started this whole
disaster. And now there`s more. Turns out Freedom Industries just
realized that there was something else in that leaking tank. A second
chemical was in the tank.
The president of Freedom Industries decided to tell the state yesterday, 12
days into the spill, about there being a second chemical in that tank. The
company had never listed this chemical on its chemical inventory that it
had filed with the state. It never told any of the authorities involved in
responding to the spill that this other chemical might be implicated.
But yesterday at about 10:00 a.m., the head of Emergency Response for the
state`s Department of Environmental Protection says just before the daily
meeting that they have now about that leak to try to coordinate the
response – just before that meeting at the leak site yesterday, the
president of Freedom Industries pulled the state official aside and asked
to speak with him privately. He then told the state official about this
second chemical that was also in the tank and handed him data sheets on the
The Freedom Industries president then told the state official, quote, “I`m
going to have a terrible day today.”
Yes, he`s going to have a terrible day. Meanwhile, 300,000 people in West
Virginia are just finding out that thanks to him and his company, their
drinking water was contaminated, yes, with a coal washing chemical that
smells like licorice and that makes you sick and has unknown long-term
health effects, but there it was also contaminated with several hundred
galons of the chemical called PPH, which is also said to irritate the eyes
and skin and to be harmful if swallowed, but how harmful? Don`t know
The race is now on to find out what information exists in the world about
the health effects in humans of exposure to this chemical and how to test
for it and how to treat it out of the water and how to find out if it is
still in West Virginia`s water even now.
Not being particularly helpful in the race so far is Freedom Industries,
who is now claiming that the exact identity of that substance is
proprietary to their business. After the company`s bankruptcy hearing
yesterday when reporters approached the Freedom Industries president to ask
him about these new revelations 12 days into the spill that there was a
second chemical involved, the president of Freedom Industries, quote,
“walked away from reporters” and said he had another meeting to attend.
Busy guy. He was probably having a really terrible day. A really, really
MADDOW: This is my favorite story of the day. All right. Funny thing
happened in the news today, and not in the sense that something funny
happened. It was the release of the aforementioned Presidential Commission
on Election Administration, the voting fix thing, right? It`s not that
funny. But the way it was reported was really funny.
Look. This from “The Washington Post.” “President Obama called the
commission`s suggestions imminently glittering after receiving them today.”
Let`s check another source. Check Politico. Look. Yes, quoting the
president. “Obama said the recommendations that are contained in this
commission report are imminently glittering.”
President Obama admittedly can turn a fancy phrase, but did he really call
the voting commission recommendation “imminently glittering”? Judge for
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The good news is that the recommendations that are on contained in
this commission report are imminently doable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Doable. Imminently doable. Where did glittering come from?
Official White House transcript, remarks by the president, paragraph seven,
the president`s remarks, “The recommendations that are contained in this
commissions report are imminently glittering.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Imminently doable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Imminently doable. How did doable become glittering in the White
House transcript and then in all the press reports today, I have no idea.
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